I receive many emails and comments from subscribers that are all somewhat similar. They typically say, “Yeah, but what should I, as a city dweller, really do to be prepared.” It can be confusing and overwhelming with all of the many looming challenges and when you are new to prepping. Even with prepping, your ultimate survival of any cataclysmic event isn’t guaranteed, so accept that fact upfront. What prepping does for you is providing you a hedge against certain death. It gives you the resources and means to acquire resources to keep you from being a refugee or a statistic. Prepping puts your future more in your hands and gives you options.
But, what are the skills you need to survive in an urban environment? Let’s say disaster strikes in an urban or suburban environment when you are 5 to 10 miles from your preps or your preps are wiped out or stolen in the disaster or its aftermath. What then? Water, food, fire, shelter, and security–you’re going to probably need them in that order, as well. This post will look at the critical survival skills you will need to survive in an urban environment after a cataclysmic grid-down event if you were away from home or your preps were destroyed. I will categorize them in that order but realize the order you will need will depend upon your circumstance. If you are sitting on a property with a running stream and an abundance of stored food, security might be your greatest need. If you are far in the desert but have prepared a good food supply, water might be your survival priority. It is possible for the urban dweller to survive, regardless of what a country prepper might tell you, but there are specific skills you will need, and there are certain things you need to know. With that said, let’s take a look at the urban survival essential skills and items you need today to survive tomorrow.
Resource depletion can happen in a matter of minutes after a disaster. Whether all the stores get raided the first day or all the community gardens and patios are picked clean the first week, the shortages will come much faster than for more rural preppers. Food and water will be in scarcity, and the means to cook food or make water drinkable will be in short supply. The need for personal security is much higher, as well. Heating up that Ramen sends a loud signal to the hungry and desperate. First, you have a means of heat and light. Second, you have food. As much faith as you put into humanity or believe in humanity’s overall goodness, you still have to factor in that the concentration of a few bad seeds is much greater along with the concentration of people around you. Hunger makes a thief of any man.
Most urban dwellers suffer through a 24-hour power outage. When 24 turns to 48 hours, tensions double as well. When 72-hours roll around, and there is no hope on the horizon and people begin to realize that it’s up to them for their own survival, that will be the turning point for many. Most urban dwellers are beside themselves with panic when the one grocery store near them suddenly sells out of toilet paper, rice, or flour. This even though the average urban dweller is more inclined to eat out or order in versus preparing a meal for themselves. These may seem to be hasty generalizations, but we see that these are the realities when disasters strike. Blizzards, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, civil unrest, we see a host of reasons to become prepared in the stories of desperation that accompany all these. Unfortunately, there are more stories of despair than there are stories of preparedness. You rarely hear, except within our community, the stories of people who weathered the storms of life just fine because they had preps, stored water, backup electricity, and the like. That doesn’t make good, saleable news; however, there are thousands more every day beginning to prep where they are at for the situations they are currently facing or they anticipate facing in the future.
While prepping is very different, not necessarily easier, when you have 5-acres, and most of us can’t afford a bug-out cabin in the woods, the urban prepper needs to know how to survive their environment. It’s hard and brings a host of challenges, but it can be done if you know what you are doing and you know how to secure the essentials of water, food, shelter, and security.
You can’t live much longer than 72 hours without it. Even though a great deluge might flood the streets of your city, that water on the roads will kill you as fast as the violence of the storm that brought it. Every chemical on every street and lawn and raw sewage will have washed into it and will make it poisonous to drink and possibly toxic even to wade through. Your first defense against water insecurity is, of course, to have water stored up in your home. For this, having small, portable 5-gallon water containers or WaterBricks are an excellent solution for the urban prepper. If you are prepping in a suburban environment, food-grade 55-gallon barrels are inexpensive and can be filled and stored in a garage. If you aren’t going to be able to get to your reserves because disaster strikes and you are ten or more miles away from them, or if they are wiped out in the disaster, having a personal water filtration system will be a lifesaver. Filtering out micro-organisms, bacteria, and protozoa will mean the difference between certain death and survival. A Mini Sawyer water filtration system can easily fit in your pocket and filter enough water to sustain a whole family for a year. In your water needs kit, you should also have the means to purify water. The go-to is the Potable Aqua Germicidal Water Purification Tablets. When it comes to harvesting water in the wild from urban sources, a Sillcock key will allow you to access water faucets outside commercial buildings. Every building, from restaurants to grocery stores, will have an outside access point for water. The Sillcock key will give you access to that vital resource. Once you have one in your EDC bag, take a walk and document for yourself the access points. You don’t want to be searching around for an access point after a disaster. Find them in advance in the places you frequent, like your home and place of work.
You should also take a long walk or use Google maps and document for yourself open water sources like fountains, ponds, creeks, rivers, and the access points to these. If you need to harvest and purify water from the wild, and even a fountain is a wild source because of the bacteria level present in the water, you will need to know where these sources are. You will need to be able to carry away water from the source, and you will need to make the water drinkable. Having an empty water bottle and an electrolyte supplement will provide you with a means of personal hydration, keep you hydrated better and longer, and allow you to stay on the move. Suburban dwellers should apply their search for water to their homes and know how to shut off water to their homes and drain the water heater as well as knowing how to open fire hydrants as they contain large amounts of water.
For a slightly longer-term solution to water insecurity, assuming you have found a safe place to hole up for a while, something like a Kelly Kettle or rocket stove will provide you a fast, low-smoke, low-fuel fire to purify about 40 ounces of water at a time. Fire may not be practical in all situations, but I will address that later.
You can live longer without food than you can without water. Here too, we will assume that you are cut off from your supplies at home. If you’re saying to yourself that you don’t have any supplies at home right now, you need to make that your first priority. Drop everything and review the videos and blogs on home food storage and preparation. Having enough food to get you through a minimum of 72-hours and hopefully several weeks is your first priority. That being said, there are two main things you have to know about food in the urban survival scenario. First, there’s the food you can carry, and second, there is the food you can obtain. Within 72-hours after a disaster where no hope of rescue or recovery is on the horizon, the stores will be picked clean of all their products. Convenience stores, grocery stores, even restaurants will likely be completely depleted of all edible resources within the first week. People’s houses will be targeted after that. If it gets that desperate, you want to avoid cooking fragrant foods. Even in these desperate situations, though, food can be found.
I suggest having some long shelf life energy bars and freeze-dried foods as the food you can carry. You can easily stow in your vehicle or in your bag enough of these to get you and maybe another person through a short period. That time may be enough to get you home or to a safer location where a long-term food solution can be developed. You might also carry a few well-sealed packets of honey. The sugar boost from these can keep you moving. Powdered protein drinks can provide you with needed calories and can give you a feeling of fullness as you travel to safety.
In addition to what you carry, you need to know a little bit about foraging from your environment. The average person in my neighborhood will walk right by one of the many fig trees or pomegranate trees that grow in my community. They simply don’t know what they are when they are growing in their unprocessed forms. In many city parks and suburban environments and over fences, a person can easily find lemon, orange, olive, peach, apricot, persimmon, walnut, mulberry, fig, apple, cherry, and other fruit trees. Nut trees are relatively common, and even a handful of nuts will provide copious amounts of energy in a survival situation. However, fruit and nut trees won’t be found in truly urban environments because of pollution, growing environments, and lack of care and maintenance. Still, food resources can be found growing in an urban setting. Some cities are even experimenting with edible landscaping in parks. Know the areas likely sprayed versus intentionally created or wild green spaces. Know the basic herbs, grasses, and flowers that can be eaten and note their location. Those Dahlia flowers you walk by on your lunch break have edible bulbs. The Canna flower’s rhizome is edible, as well. That lotus flower in the park’s water feature has an edible bulb, and so on. Know what plants these are. If you are desperate enough, they will sustain you but realize your body isn’t accustomed to eating so wildly. Make sure to wash what you eat and only eat a small amount. A raw root rhizome or tuber can have starches that your body can’t break down, and that could stop you in your tracks with debilitating gas. Take a walk and do the research. An application like Google Lens can help you identify plants.
Finally, stay ahead of the competition for food resources. Just like every other desperate person will be eventually thinking, vending machines hold large amounts of food. Businesses without refrigeration may be more than willing to sell you something from their coolers for whatever cash you may be carrying rather than let it go bad. You only need enough food to either get home or get out and away to a resource richer environment.
Fire is the fundamental long-term survival element. Without it, you can’t purify water, stay warm, see in the dark, and more. Fire is not without a host of precautions. A fire attracts attention, whether that is light at night, smoke by day, or the smell of smoke at any time. People will be drawn to it. Small, smokeless fires are ideal. While many people use fire rods, and those are a tremendous long-term consistent source, most people have minimal experience with them. In an emergency situation after a disaster, they may not even get a fire started from the tiny shower of sparks a fire rod provides. For the urban survivalist in a 72-hour survival scenario, I suggest the ubiquitous and classic Bic lighter. As far as lighters go, they are made a little better than other off-brand lighters. A wet or dry firestarter kit can easily be stowed in a vehicle or EDC bag, and I suggest having one in addition to the lighter. If you carry a wallet with you everywhere you go, put a credit card-sized Fresnel magnifying lens in there. If the sun is shining after a disaster, you will be guaranteed to have a reliable fire starter on hand. It is so much easier to use than a fire rod and will last for an unlimited amount of fires. All you will need is some kindling like paper trash and an unobstructed view of the sun. It will not fail you, so make sure to put one right with your driver’s license.
When starting a fire in an urban environment, always consider ignition sources and the spreadability of the fire. You don’t want to create a larger disaster. Keep your fire low and just enough to provide you what you need, then put it out immediately. Keep safe from others and keep safe yourself.
The fire category for the urban prepper is also light. Sometimes a real fire isn’t practical, and you only need a light source. There are thousands of highly effective, small lights available that are very bright. When shopping lights, consider a flashlight with a red light option as white light draws far more attention and red can’t be seen from a far distance like white light. Even an LED headlamp, though, can give you the light you need to safely travel in the dark or hunker down and plan your next steps.
During a disaster in an urban environment where you are cut off from your home supplies, shelter becomes essential. The competition for shelter can become significant, as well. You cannot exactly pitch a tent in the park, as someone will come by eventually and take your tent from you. Of course, sheltering in a building is possible until someone comes by and kicks you out. Under bridges and overpasses and subway stations are great if the weather outside is harsh, but they will be crowded with thousands of other people seeking the same shelter. When it comes to the essential survival element of shelter in an urban environment, you should be thinking of anything that protects you from the elements. Under a large truck or even a cardboard box can afford some protection. For the 72-hour survivor moving home or to a safer environment, I think of shelter as anything that protects you from the effects of sun, water, and wind. To this end, beyond the shelter sources you can find in an urban environment, if you are creative, you should consider shelter as clothing protection and plastic sheeting. A nine by twelve plastic drop cloth takes up barely any space in an everyday carry bag. It can be wrapped around you or fashioned into a structure over you. A plastic drop cloth or even a garbage bag can be fashioned into a poncho or makeshift foot protection. An emergency Foil Mylar blanket can be used in this manner as well.
Beyond this, think of shelter as a change of clothes. You won’t make it the ten miles to safety in heels, so some lightweight foot protection, even sandals, are a must. Sandals won’t protect you from many things, but they have been the foot protection of choice for thousands of years, and they are lightweight and durable. Ideally, though, you want some light shoes that cover the whole foot and have a sturdy sole. A clean pair of socks, lightweight windbreaker, a hat, and even gloves all take up very little space but will provide you the personal shelter you need to survive a disaster. By my definition, even some sunscreen is a form of shelter from exposure to the elements, so make sure you have a high SPF sunscreen nearby. A small jar of petroleum jelly can protect your lips, your face, and minor scrapes and abrasions from wind, water, and chapping, but it will amplify the harmful effects of the sun. If those previously mentioned streets are flooded with toxic water, by the way, petroleum jelly can put a protective layer between you and the contaminated water you need to wade through to get to safety.
Security is always a tricky one. You can’t exactly carry a large fixed blade knife or gun freely around a city, even if it’s in your backpack, though that’s a possibility. Invariably, you will find somewhere that won’t let you in because of these being in your backpack or on your person. Still, a small folding knife or key knife can provide you with some cutting capability and some personal security. A tactical pen or kubaton can give you the edge in a hand-to-hand situation. Mace and pepper spray provides an effective means of stopping an attacker and providing you the ability to escape. After a disaster, no one will hassle you if you are carrying a pipe or stick or cane down the street as you move to a safer location or home, and you should cultivate from the urban environment what you need for protection. Don’t abandon your car without taking the lug wrench with you. A section of pipe or rebar you find, even your belt, can be used for personal protection.
If you are forced to shelter in place or overnight somewhere, make sure you are aware of all access points and entryways. Understand there is strength in numbers, so partnering with someone may cost you some of your resources and provide another set of eyes and an extra layer of security and defense. Even if the person would be useless in a hand-to-hand situation, the perception of strength is afforded to you because two people are stronger than one. Understand that after a horrible disaster, police and security may not be available. After Katrina, for instance, some officers failed to report for work as they opted to take care of their own families over their civil duties. That isn’t always going to be the case. Still, you can be assured that the police won’t be able to address your little conflict when they are elsewhere deployed protecting property and other infrastructure sources.
In an urban environment, there are good people and opportunistic people. Some people would typically help you out, but they are more concerned about their own survival after a disaster. Now presented with the opportunity, some people would take what you have without a second thought. And, some people would have robbed you anyways, who now have a golden opportunity to do so in the aftermath of a disaster. Keep a low profile, move swiftly to your destination. If you aren’t heading to your home base, you should be heading out of the city. Getting to a safer location is always your best security. If you can find a bicycle, even a pay bicycle if those are still operational, or you can use your tools to bypass the security on them, moving at a bicycle speed will keep you from being targeted and will get you to your destination faster. If there is certainly no law and order left, the theft, or let us say borrowing, of a golf cart, utility cart, or even a car, while illegal, shouldn’t be considered by you to be unacceptable. You need to get to safety. A final word on traveling securely, make sure you have at least one paper map of your area. Urban dwellers often know one route through an area to their most frequently traveled areas. Many cities are laid out very logically for a reason. Streets are numbered in one direction and alphabetical in another direction. Know multiple routes and a few hypothetical routes you can travel. This will keep you safer.
You will want to see the other blogs and videos I have done on Everyday Carry bags, foraging, and other topics to round out your understanding of surviving a 72-hour period cutoff from your supplies and without guaranteed safety. Disasters don’t always strike with a long preceding warning period. They are often sudden and can find us far from home and far from safety. That doesn’t have to be a death sentence, even in an urban environment. It has its own set of unique challenges. Still, if we remember the basics of water, food, fire, shelter, and security, we position ourselves to survive and not be either a statistic or a refugee. Water, food, and shelter surround even the urban dweller. You just have to know what you are looking for and where to find it. Contrary to what country preppers might tell you, city preppers can survive a calamity if they can safely get home or to a safer location in or out of the city.
What do you think? Have I covered everything here, or is there something else you would include in these must-haves? Tell us in the comments below. If you found this blog informative and helpful, please feel free to share it with others.
As always, stay safe out there.